Montgomery County alcohol sales up 14 percent from year ago
Officials say Sunday initiative might not be reason
Alcohol sales have increased in Montgomery County since county-owned stores that sell liquor, beer and wine began operating on Sundays, officials said Monday.
But the extra days are not necessarily the reason for the increase, said Gus Montes de Oca, chief of operations for the county's Department of Liquor Control.
The county began opening its stores on Sundays for the first time Nov. 21 as part of a test program to determine whether the extra day generates additional sales and benefits customers, County Executive Isiah Leggett (D) said at the time.
The program was to operate for at least six months, he said then.
Leggett did not return three calls for comment.
Sales in the 24 county-owned stores of beer, wine and liquor totaled $14.5 million in December 14 percent higher than in December 2009, de Oca said.
The county stores were closed on the Sundays following Christmas Day and New Year's Eve, he said.
Only county-owned stores, which have traditionally been closed on Sundays, may sell hard liquor. Privately owned stores that sell only wine and beer are permitted to open on Sundays.
De Oca cautioned against using initial data from the pilot program to form any conclusions about its success.
But private beer and wine store owners say they already have seen a reduction in their own sales.
Peter Frank, of Potomac, who owns Talbert's Ice and Beverage Service in Bethesda, said the impact has been substantial.
"We're noticing a large drop-off, especially in the wine business," said Frank, who has been in operation for 55 years.
Four business owners said they would not speak with The Gazette about the issue because they feared retaliation from the county government.
Frank said he has seen some of his customers shopping in county-owned stores on Sundays.
"They go in there for their bottle of liquor and pick up their beer and wine as well," Frank said.
He also said the county is able to sell beer and wine at a cheaper price than private competitors because it is both the wholesale distributor and vendor.
De Oca said the county typically prices its alcohol at 28 percent above wholesale prices.
"I can't control what they sell products for," he said of private sellers.
An unscientific survey of prices at county-owned and private stores by The Gazette found that some six-packs of beer were sold for between $1 and $2 less at county-owned stores.
County-owned stores do not sell cold beer, while private stores do.
Wine prices generally were lower at county stores, although a comparison was difficult to make because of the difference in selections.
Montgomery County is one of four Maryland counties that control the sale of liquor, beer and wine. The county is the wholesale distributor of alcohol to the 950 licensed establishments that sell it in Montgomery.
While some have estimated that Sunday sales could generate as much as $1.5 million in additional county revenue, de Oca says the county did not undertake the change to make money.
He said it was a matter of convenience for customers. He questioned whether customers would buy more alcohol, or buy alcohol on Sundays rather than another day.
"These people aren't going to start drinking more product," de Oca predicted. "Are they going to increase their alcohol consumption by 15 percent because we're open on Sunday? No."